Monthly Archives: December 2018

Thoughts on the gradual death of print journalism in Guelph

By Gerry Barker

December 26, 2018

The Mercury Tribune has dropped its Tuesday edition. The paper is promising every Thursday “readers will find analysis, investigative stories, commentary and a variety of content written by our award-winning journalist.”

Also a;pended are about three pounds of advertising inserts, the bread and butter of the enterprise.

In just two years, Metroland Publishing, a division of the TorStar, proprietors of the Toronto Star, has shut down the daily Guelph Mercury and now the Tuesday edition of the Mercury Tribune.

Ah! But stay tuned. The company says it is providing online coverage 24/7 of the news and commentary. Readers must register in order to access the website. The paper is not demanding your first born but just the usual name, address, telephone number and email to access it.

Welcome to the cyber Age of Aquarius, the new electronic access to the news.

The following are important stories about Guelph that are rarely covered in depth by the eviscerated print media. Instead, when questioned, the newspaper says it doesn’t have the space or resources to dig into the stories that affect every citizen in Guelph.

Here’s a recent sample of lack of coverage:

* Explain the “Open Guelph,” a statement of about open government in relation to city council accountability and transparency. Why are they still conducting the public’s business by closed-sessions?

* Explain why Guelph property tax rates and user fees increase every year by far greater than the equivalent of the Consumer Price Index.

* Failure of the Economic Development staff to expand the industrial and commercial assessment to reduce costs to property owners and businesses.

* Guelph Hydro merger that will see the end of the city-owned electricity distribution system that closes at the end of January.

* How much is the city spending advertising in the Mercury Tribune?

* Explain why it has taken five years to renovate the downtown Police HQ that is not expected to be complete until December 2019?.

* Where does council spends the $10 million in gas tax rebates it receives from the Federal and Provincial government?

* How much, if any, do those rebates go toward creating more bike lanes and trails?

* How much of the gas tax rebates are used to expand downtown parking?

* What are the operating and capital costs of the Guelph Civic Museum since it opened?

* How does that figure square with the cost of subsidizing the downtown library?

* What is the status and costs of replacing the Niska bridge?

* Explain the source and details of the financial statements in “Financial Snapshot” section published in the city’s website called: “2017 Report to the Community?”

* What is the ratio of residents using bicycles on Guelph streets and roads compared to those using vehicles?

* Are cyclists subject to the regulations of the Highway Traffic Act? If so, why are they not licensed and carry insurance?

* What are the stats of bicycle and vehicle collisions in 2017 and 2018? What are the injuries to cyclists and drivers? What are the charges brought by Police Services Board and the rationale?

* How much money has been given away or loaned by the city? Aso, explain whar taxparer’s finds are being used to support the Kazoo Festival?

* How much is it costing the city staff services to support the University of Guelph and Conestoga College?

* * * *

Every example listed here costs those citizens who own or rent property and pay user fees.

It’s your money and you have the right to know how it is being spent.

Happy New Year! May good health and prosperity come to you and yours in 2019.

Gerry and Barbara

 

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The stealthy shadow of civic corruption that hangs over Guelph

By Gerry Barker

December 17, 2018

Opinion

In a recent letter to the media by Kevin Bowman, we learned there are three levels of denial employed by the administration to suppress public access to view the reason and results of all closed-council meetings.

Mr. Bowman expressed concern about the administration’s shutting down a complaint about the Clair Maltby Secondary Plan that was discussed in closed-session by council in June 2018.

A decision was made five months later in November, made by the inner sanctum of the outgoing city council, absolved itself and the staff of any wrong doing citing conformity with the Ontario Municipal Act rules concerning closed-session meetings.

The excuse supplied said the city’s procedural bylaw laid out the rules of conducting a closed-session meeting.

Let’s stop for a minute. How many of you out there are familiar with the city’s “procedural bylaw?”

Mr. Bowman did his homework and his following comment is clear and right: “Everything done in the name of the public … should be public.”

Otherwise, denying the right of the public to be able to access closed-sessions conducted by council, elected to represent the people of its business, could well be described a cover-up or, worse still, civic corruption?

Reading this post there is a number that will popup throughout the piece, 84, that’s the number of closed meetings conducted by council in the first two years un office by the Guthrie administration.

As it has now turned out, these 13 councillors were all complicit denying the right of legal public participation in the business of the city. But we’ll never know the result of those 84 votes.

One of the most important aspects of this denial, not only the purpose of the meeting, the discussion or the result of the vote, it’s today the blatant disrespect of the people’s interests in such a disgraceful undemocratic manner. Remember, there were 84 closed-session meetings in 24 months.

Now here’s where this council tramples on your rights

Attempting to obtain the results of Clair Maltby close-session meeting, Mr. Bowman revealed there were two levels of special investigation committees to determine if the information denied to the public could be revealed.

The first was to advise the staff, called the Technical Advisory Group or TAG. The second committee was the Community Working Group or CWG for the Clair Maltby Plan. The identity of the two committee’s personnel, their expertise, their pay or how they were selected is not known.

So instead of involving the public, two faceless, unelected committees with no authority, are deciding whether to allow a citizen’s complaint to be made public.

But wait! There’s more. Super-imposed over this issue are the real hired guns to have the final say in whether you allow the results of a closed-session meeting of council to be made public. It’s called Amberlea Gravel that is on retainer with the city to investigate closed-session meetings of council.

This outfit, retained by the city since 2008, had investigated just four complaints by Guelph citizens. The record to date is just four, all denied. I was one of the four and it took four months to learn of their decision denying the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting.

Thanks to Mr. Bowman, I no longer feel alone.

Pretend you are a judge. Would you accept the argument that the people are not entitled to closed-session meeting details?  Remember those 84 closed-session meetings in 24 months.

Is there reasonable doubt that council is using closed-session meetings to suppress public interests?

The evidence is clear that the Closed-Session Investigator, Amberlea Gravel, only received four requests for information about specific meetings in 10 years tells me there are a lot of secret meetings going on. With respect, that thwarts the meaning of the Ontario Municipal Act. I believe that it is a deliberate policy to deny the public‘s business to, well be public about it.

In my opinion, it’s a corruptive practice and should be investigated by the authorities.

I refuse to believe that the Municipal Act intended to allow municipalities to wander off the reservation rules for conducting closed-session meetings and set up the so-called procedural bylaws serving only the interest of the administrations.

Let’s consider the second greatest cover-up of all

I take you back to December 10, 2015. It is close to approving the 2016 city budget. Council went into a closed-session to discuss, as it turned out, salary increases for four senior staff. There were never any details of that meeting revealed by the Guthrie Administration.

Fast forward to March 21, 2016 when the 2015 provincial Sunshine List was published. It identified every public servant in Ontario earning a salary of $100,000 or more.

Remember, the public was never told about the closed session meeting. So, like any reporter, I pulled up the 2014 Sunshine List and checked it against the 2015 figures for those four top staff managers. I discovered that the four, CAO Ann Pappert, Deputy Chief Administration Officers (DCAO) Derrick Thomson, Mark Amorosi, and Albert Horsman collectively split $98,202.

The dollars and percentages allotted of that pie were:

CAO Pappert, $37,591 (17.11 percent);

DCAO Thomson, $33,834 (19.48 per cent);

DCAO Mark Amorosi, $26,826, (14.7 per cent)

DCAO Albert Horsman. He left the city in August 2015 before the closed-session meeting of Dec. 10. The 2015 Sunshine list shows he was paid some $157,000. His share was never revealed.

Another revelation of Ms. Pappert’s departure

Here’s a wrinkle that has never been revealed in the media. When the 2016 Sunshine List was published the Former CAO was paid $263,000 and worked only five months of the year. Dividing the 263,000 by 12 equals a monthly payment of $21,916.

When Ms. Pappert resigned May 16, 2016, why was she paid $153,416 for the seven months when not employed?

Who authorized that excessive payout? Further, why didn’t the Guthrie Administration inform the public? The public never knew until 10 months later, after she resigned, when the 2016 Sunshine List was published in Match 2017.

Ask yourself; did you believe these increases were justified? Do you believe the drizzle of explanation from the administration was appropriate and responsible?

If so, why did they cover it up?

It was a concerted effort between a needy council and powerful senior staff.

The strangest part of this cover-up was that didn’t council approve these increases not realizing it would be reported when the 2015 Sunshine List was published? This was an ill-informed and awkward decision by the very people elected to represent the people.

In my opinion it is a perfect example of civic corruption.

Of the four senior staffers or beneficiaries, only Mr. Thomson remains as Chief Administrative Officer of the city. One remains unconvinced that this party is still in play and operating with impunity and rare public scrutiny.

Here’s an example. When appointed CAO in June 2016, Mr. Thomson announced he would reveal his salary. The figure he used was that he signed a three-year contract of $230,00 plus an $11,000 taxable benefit. Well the 2017 Sunshine List reported him earning $263,000 plus taxable benefit.

He did not announce that but it was in the Sunshine List reporting the salaries for 2017.

Do we need to keep supporting these senior manager’s practices without recourse or accountability?

The recent re-election of city council returned the same individuals who participated in all those closed-session meetings. The only tool the public can rely on for accuracy are the provincial Sunshine Lists.

Is this anyway to run a railroad? Or, are we the people getting railroaded?

Oscar Wilde was once quoted: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to give in.”

Unfortunately, given the result of the recent civic election it epitomizes that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Breaking news

The Guelph Mercury tribune is asking readers to register to obtain the stories and features online.

Having operated a controlled distribution newspaper in my career, I know what’s going on.

First, the advertisers want proof of the circulation numbers, where the paper is being delivered and confirmation of delivery.

Second, it is an apparent innocent appeal to invite folks to register that is a potential prelude to converting to paid circulation.

In my opinion, if the management decides to go that route, they will have to beef up their editorial coverage to not be reliant on city press releases puff pieces and the police incident records.

I am reminded of a comment made by Tribune Editor Doug Coxson in a Globe and Mail feature on the Guelph media two years ago. He was quoted as saying that the Tribune was planning to do more investigative reporting.

I’ve been covering the Guelph political beat for 12 years and have yet to read one investigative story in the paper.

 

 

 

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Critical words denied by those sworn to allow it, our civic democracy is in peril

By Gerry Barker

December 10, 2018

I am a wordsmith, a lover of language and expression. In some 12 years I have been covering the politics of a city that is drenched in diversion and opacity. I have searched for truth and transparency in reporting some 200 columns in the former Mercury daily newspaper and 997 posts in my blog, guelphspeaks.ca.

I am not always right. It isn’t easy as one pursues the truth from a closed operation known as the City of Guelph. The city administration for those 12 years has been dominated and controlled by a pernicious movement controlled by a coalition of the labour movement environmentalists, the Green Gang and by NDP loyalists.

It is a highly organized group determined to change the way we transport ourselves, collect and process our waste, annually increases charge us for our water, incoming outgoing and storm runoff that now represents 33 per cent of my residential Guelph Hydro electricity monthly bill.

Hey! I’m just a taxpayer

This council has given away, (my words and opinion) our Hydro distribution system to a large corporation that has no connection with the 55,000 customers who were quite happy with the former Guelph Hydro.

That single exercise masked the truth and was not transparent. To this day I would like to hear from any member of council how much the city received for our system. Yes, words do matter but only when they are used to reveal the truthful interests of the public.

The control of this group rests with words. They publish the words that they want you to read and believe. There is little or no media investigation of the major mismanagement of the people’s business since 2007.

Their words are designed to block public participation in the politics of the city.

And In October, that strategy worked because for a lack of transparency and accountability, two thirds of those citizens eligible to vote, some 57,000 of them failed to turn up and vote.

Regretfully it is by design. It’s called the lullaby system. Without a vibrant and responsible media to force open an accountable government to inform people. They are the large group of eligible citizens who are not informed and then assume their vote is not important or needed.

Mushroom manipulation of the public’s business

Here’s what you’ll rarely read or view in the Guelph focused media. Critical news of the administration, particularly when it comes to financial news and development decisions. The exception is the Ontario Municipal Act that oversees the governance of the 445 municipalities in Ontario. That Ministry also published the annual Sunshine List of every public employee in the province earning more that $100,000.

This is an invaluable resource to track down who and how much Guelph employees whomake the list earn each year.

Yes, words, facts and figures do matter. The province gets it, why doesn’t Guelph?

That was a major break-through in discovering how city council, in December 10, 2015, in closed-session, approved $98,202 in salary increases to four top staff managers. Not one of the so-called media covered this, even when the 2015 Sunshine list revealed their salaries in March 2016.

I was interested in the numbers and checked their salaries in 2014 and discovered the size of the increases and to whom they were awarded. The city to this day has never admitted those increases that they covered up for more than three months. Did they believe that none of us would notice or question it?

I attempted in January 2016 to obtain the minutes of the Dec. 10th closed-session. It turned out three levels of consultants denied my request after four months. More on this to come later. It is a form of voter suppression that has been perfected for the past 12 years.

I wrote several posts critical of the silence that enveloped any official explanation or an apology. In addition, my posts aggravated the senior staff and certain members of council.

Yep! Words do matter, along with actions that blind public participation even when such a monumental mistake occurs under the administration’s watch.

Why the city administration wants to control the news

This is an example that words are important and matter in our modern society. Unfortunately, the City of Guelph administration has chosen to shut down public participation because the words do not fit their agenda.

Finally, here’s my point. If city council abuses the right of citizens to know and understand the administration’s operations, there is no better example than the numbers of closed-session meetings of council plus that of some of its non-elected committees.

In two years, 2015 and 2016, council conducted 84 closed-session meetings not including those conducted by other committees appointed by council.

The question is: These suppressive tactics to deny the right of the public’s right to know, are allowed to continue, nothing will change and we can only change it by organizing, and preparing for the next civic election in 2022. Only with political action by the voters can end it and return real democracy to our city.

I will do everything I can as long as I am able to help make this happen. More on this later.

Meanwhile, let’s get started. Let me know, if you are ready to join the coalition to change the way to stop our city being controlled by a group of self-serving people. Drop me a line at gerrybarker76@gmail.com. We can start by forming a steering group to set up an organization that will represent all parts of the city.

 

 

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CAO Derrick Thomson explains Guelph’s global giving goals but doesn’t giving begin at home?

By Gerry Barker

December 3, 2018

The other day a number of community leaders attended a breakfast meeting in a downtown bar. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Guelph Gives organized he meeting in conjunction with the Giving Tuesday campaign of last week.

The UN goals include eliminating poverty, creating gender equality, climate action and reducing inequalities.

Guelph Gives organizer, Emma Rogers said: “We know Guelph is great in terms of financial give-back and in terms of volunteerism. What can we do to take that another step further?

She answered her own question. “Taking a bigger piece of the pie to not only help the people of Guelph but also helping people around the world.”

For the record, Canada is a major contributor to a number of agencies working under the UN umbrella. Also, there are many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) offering services and assistance in a host of countries around the world.

A Noble initiative

It is admirable for this organization to urge support of other people around the world but what about other homegrown issues facing our community? These include affordable housing, public safety, and drug addiction, health and wellness and updating infrastructure.

Then we have the active transportation crowd who demand more bicycle lanes and trails and don’t have to pay for it. Fast-forward 20 years. The greatest revolution in vehicles will be the general use of electricity cars, trucks, and buses.

There will still be congestion and lack of parking on our streets, just like today because in 20 years Guelph’s population will grow by an estimated 40,000. The former Liberal government’s Places to Grow plan estimated that Guelph’s population would be 175,000 by 2050.

So here is my personal dilemma. Do we continue to spend millions on bicycle lanes at the expense of vehicles that use our streets? Just so we can help people around the world? We currently have a transit system that is inefficient, expensive and geared to chiefly supplying transportation for the 20,000 University of Guelph students for eight months.

No matter what the administration has done in the past 12 years, the emphasis on failed energy projects costing millions; demands for climate change by cutting the use of fossil fuels; wasting money on bike lanes on major roads to support a tiny portion of the population of Guelph; projecting spending millions on the proposed $350 million Baker Street Parking lot downtown. The list of financial commitments in terms of multi-millions of capital spending increases while a city council seems devoid of common sense

Here’s an example. We just re-elected a mayor who promised that the city would finally get a new downtown library that would be part of the Baker Street development. Here’s the truth. The city staff says the project will not start until 2024. By the time the library is completed, at least ten years will have gone by before the first book is loaned out.

That’s big time hyperbole and that’s three city councils from now.

The article carried on the GuelphToday website quotes the Chief Administrative Officer, who attended the meeting, at length about the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Chills go down my spine when I hear this

Mr. Thomson outlines the city venturing into areas that a municipality traditionally has not done. Specifically he included the Guelph Community Energy Initiative’s (CEI) efforts by reducing the carbon footprint and the city’s goal of being net zero in its carbon footprint as well as being 100 per cent renewable in its energy uses.

He’s kidding right?

Let’s start with the CEI. The newly elected mayor Karen Farbridge stitched it together in 2007. The organizing meeting was attended by many enthusiastic community leaders about the goals if CEI.

For those of our readers not familiar with CEI here is a brief record of its achievements.

More than 300 change orders to make the new city hall environmentally green, resulted in the firing of the General Contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., and a subsequent lawsuit that cost the city an additional $23 million to complete the project. As a result the Mayor was defeated in the 2014 civic election.

Next was the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. scandal to make Guelph self sufficient in energy. This was another Mayor Farbridge plan linked to her CEI initiative. Trouble was it involved Guelph Hydro and a business plan that was labeled secretive, sloppy and irresponsible. Nobody outside of the administration knew what was happening until the results started to leak out. Long story short, the GMHI shareholders, the people of Guelph, according to a KPMG audit of GMHO operations stated there was a liability of $63 million.

Here’s the CEI Kayo punch to the citizens: In the fall of 2016, the council appointed a committee to investigate the sale or merger of Guelph Hydro with tangible assets of $228 million according to its 2016 financial report. Guelph Hydro was owned by GMHI. The committee, co-chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson, most times met in closed session. In October 2017, Mayor Guthrie announced the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra utilities Inc., a large-scale power distribution corporation. Despite the many questions regarding the sale or merger, the details of this deal have never been revealed. As of January 31, Guelph Hydro disappears and is no longer the property of the 55,000 customers. It’s thanks to the closed session meeting of the Ontario Energy Board thst approved the deal despite citizen’s protests.

Mr. Thomson was involved in these CEI debacles as CAO and co-chair of the dispersal of Guelph Hydro.

His boast that Guelph was the exception not the rule when it came to sustainability and environmental issues is misrepresenting the facts.

As the staff head of more that 2,100 employees not including police, fire and EMS, in his two and a half years on the job, there has been no relief of property taxes, user fees or industrial development. Instead the citizens, including those 57,000 who didn’t bother to vote, are stuck with an administration that refuses to deal with the basic underlying problems.

Darn it Derrick. Why don’t you concentrate on lowering operational costs starting with a meaningful staff rationalization by an independent firm; put a sock in the proponents of the Guelph Innovation District, turn up the heat of the Economic Development Department to attract more commercial and industrial development; work to attract technologists to develop Artificial Intelligence and new software.

At the same time, work to juice city revenue besides tapping the property tax owners every year. You can start by getting our MPP to persuade the Legislature to update the University’s bed-tax deal in lieu of property taxes. After all he says that he has many friends in the PC caucus who are unhappy with the government.

Running a municipality is not rocket science but setting off one or two rockets may make Guelph an even better place to live and work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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